Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Trumbles in Fiction II

Ever since great-grandfather J. W. Trumble established his first legal practice at Nhill in the Wimmera, successive generations of Trumble descendants have practiced law in Victoria and elsewhere, and show no sign of letting up. However, there does seem to be some curious predisposition on the part of minor novelists to cast in the role of barrister and solicitor fictional persons who happen to be called Trumble.

As far as I can see, there is no evidence to suggest that Trumble and Palmer; Trumble and Hamilton; Mallesons, nor indeed latterly Donaldson Trumble Lawyers in Melbourne ever offered themselves as direct models for those few fictional Trumble legal practitioners whom I have painstakingly unearthed thus far, but certain resonances in the name certainly seem to be unequivocally “legal.”

It is possible that the influence of our kinsman Jonathan Trumble, sometime Governor of Connecticut (1769 to 1784), may have been a factor, although his rash and inexplicable change of spelling (well before the Declaration of Independence, to “Trumbull”) makes this seem rather unlikely. Nor were he or his son and namesake (the American soldier, patriot, professional artist, and second Speaker of the United States House of Representatives) qualified attorneys.

In a long article entitled “Murder of Late” in
The Saturday Review (February 2, 1929, p. 137), H. C. Harwood offered a stern critique of Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday, an anthology of short stories by G. D. H. Cole and M. Cole (London: Collins, 1900), as failing to satisfy certain basic rules of detective fiction. These may be summarized as follows:

A crime, almost always murder, is committed in an early chapter. Suspicion rests on several persons. The chief investigator makes known the facts (or a great majority of them), but conceals his opinions. In the end the identity of the criminal comes as a surprise to the reader. Now, the criminal must have both motive and opportunity. To divert the reader’s attention it is necessary (a) to ascribe to some one or more persons a greater motive or opportunity, (b) to conceal the criminal’s motive, (c) to conceal the criminal’s opportunity, or (d) to conceal the criminal’s identity. The success of the author is to be estimated by the extent to which he does one or more of these four things without refusing to the reader information available to the chief investigator. That is all that matters. Wit, humour, elegance, sensationalism may make a good detective story better, but cannot make a weak one good.

The Coles are amusing but slight; the short story is not their medium. “‘That,’ Wilson added to Kingdon, ‘I discovered from a paper in the possession of Hirst and Trumble, and it was that which put me on the true trail.’” In other words, an essential piece of evidence has been kept from the reader but given to the detective and that will not do. The same vicious reticence recurs in other of the stories; where it does not, the culprit is obvious.

Cricket Reform

Several months after he wrote to the editor of The Times about the current state of wickets, on October 16, 1926 (p. 6), our great-grandfather J. W. Trumble submitted further unsolicited thoughts, restating almost in its entirety, but with embellishments, his earlier line on binding clays, and the heavy roller. No doubt the sub-editorial decision to publish it was borne by widespread enthusiasm for the game of cricket, but, in his slightly dogged way, J. W. Trumble manages to come across as interfering, certainly, but slightly bossy also. Nor was this to be his last word on the matter:



Sir,—May I before returning to Australia, avail myself of the medium of your paper to supplement my remarks in my previous letter on the subject of cricket reform? I would like also to say that I am pleased to learn, on the announcement of Lord Harris, that the Advisory Committee of the M.C.C. is now giving attention to this matter. There is no doubt that the conditions in which the game is now played unduly favour the batsman as against the bowler, and as a consequence rob the game to a great extent of that attractiveness which was formerly its great charm. Only those of us who had experience of first-class cricket some 40 or 50 years ago and have since kept in touch with the game can fully appreciate this. We know that the groundsman now holds sway over the game, and that he has been encouraged by cricket committees in recent years, largely for financial reasons, to secure a wicket which, mainly by the introduction of binding soils and the use of the heavy roller, is little short of the condition of concrete.

As regards the composition of turf, I may here say that it is possible for the soil expert to produce almost any class of turf, and as indicative of this it may be of interest if I say something of the M.C.C. (Australia) wicket, and its preparation for Test Match play. A short time ago the groundsman, at my request, broke open the ground at the wicket, and went down to a depth of over one foot, and, as I suspected from its non-draining condition, I found the soil all the way down similar to what it was on the surface. This represented an accumulation of heavy black clay top dressing which had been put on yearly over a period of about 40 years. In preparing our wicket, after nursing it for some time, the groundsman, for about 12 days before play, proceeds with its more immediate preparation. He then floods the area, and, when the flooding gradually soaks in, leaving the surface of the consistency of putty, he knows he has the required moisture content to carry the wicket through the period of play, however long that may be. The surface is then worked up daily by the heavy roller, until at last it becomes of the hardness of a marble slab. After the cutter has done its work, an expert scytheman takes off most of what remains of the grass, and the heavy roller grinds out the substance of what is left. The final rolling puts a polished face on the wicket, preventing the spin ball from getting a grip of the ground, and the surface of the wicket assumes a coconut matting appearance.

Can one picture a more absurd representation of a turf wicket than this? It might be just as sensible to cut out all this toil of preparation and put down a permanent concrete bed. In the matter of spin on this class of wicket I might instance the bowling of [Bill] Howell, one of the greatest of Australian medium-pace spin bowlers. The condition of the wicket often beat him in the early stages of a game, but so accurate was his bowling that in time he wore off a patch of the polished face and then succeeded in getting on terms with the batsmen. I question, however, whether on the wickets as now prepared it would be possible for a medium-pace bowler to get in on our wickets as Howell did, even at a later stage of play.

This all goes to show to what lengths groundsmen can get in the preparation of present-day wickets. The position in Australia is rapidly becoming farcical, and should have immediate attention. You are interested in this country because you are concerned in Test cricket over there. The first move, however, should be made here. I have given to Sir John Russell, Director of Rothamsted Experimental Station, samples of the Melbourne and Adelaide wickets. He was much surprised that their appearance, and a member of his staff suggested that they resembled a substance with commercial possibilities unearthed in Scotland from which oil was extracted.

It is contended that the ball now used is to a large extent responsible for the non-success of our bowlers. While admitting that bowlers are to some extent handicapped by this ball, I cannot agree that the return to the smaller ball will improve matters very much. The wicket will still beat the bowler. One has only to bring to mind the great medium-pace bowlers of the past, and look for their class now, to realize the change, gradual though it has been, that has come over the game.

Assuredly the secret of what is wrong with cricket lies in the wicket. Let us discard the binding soils and the heavy roller and get back to the old-time natural springy turf, and with batsman and bowler on equal terms matches will end in a reasonable time, and, instead of being tests of patience and endurance, they will bring out those qualities of initiative and resource and the ability to rise superior to surroundings which so characterized the play of many of our great cricketers of the past.

Yours, &c.,


Four stumps or four days?

Our great-grandfather, J. W. Trumble, was an inveterate writer of letters to the editor of The Times newspaper, invariably about pressing matters relating to Test Cricket. For many years he enjoyed the status of a sort of Senior Statesman of Cricket, having himself played for Australia in 1888, although his younger brother Hugh was the more successful, indeed legendary player. Whilst on a golfing holiday at the Ugadale Arms Hotel at Machrihanish, near Campbeltown in Argyllshire, Scotland, on July 30, 1926 (p. 15), for example, J. W. Trumble wrote the following measured, if somewhat leaden critique of the then state of test wickets.
Sir:—The necessity for some improvement in the conditions of Test Match cricket as now played is apparent to most followers of the game. The bat on present-day good wickets has got the better of the ball and huge scores and unfinished games (except in Australia, where matches are played out) are the order of the day. Why is this? In the old days there were no huge scores and bowlers could hold their own with batsmen and there was no trouble about the three days limit for matches. Is it that batsmen to-day are superior to the batsmen of the early Test Match periods? I think not. I am sure the great bats of the past would have had a very rosy time of it on present-day wickets. Present-day bowlers are not so formidable, but that, in my opinion, is mainly because wickets as now prepared beat them. Formerly the bowler could get turn on the ball because the ball with spin would grip the turf and take the break. Now, because of the smooth and polished face on the present-day wicket, secured by the heavy roller working on the firmed up soil, the ball cannot grip the turf. It simply slips on and becomes an easy ball for the batsman to negotiate. I hold then that the present-day compacted wicket (the product of binding top dressing and the heavy roller) us responsible for the unsatisfactory condition into which the game has fallen.

The position in Australia is worse than it is here. There the glossy-faced, grassless and concretelike wickets render the bowlers’ task almost hopeless. And it is not to be wondered at that Test Matches in Australia take a week or more to complete! In my time, when cricket was played on the wickets as then formed and prepared, three days sufficed for a match. It was even difficult sometimes to get wickets to hold for three days, and in some of the earlier Australian inter-State contests two wickets were prepared for and played on in the one match. Play then was bright, full of incident, and always interesting. Now it is generally otherwise. In view of this it is obvious something should be done to shorten play and to make the game more attractive for the cricketing public. To this end many suggestions for amendment of the rules in aid of the bowler have been made. The drawback, however, to the adoption of any of these suggestions is that sometimes the bowler would require this aid, and sometimes he would not, accordingly as the wicket was good or bad.

I hold the proper thing to do would be to tackle what I consider the cause of the trouble—the wicket—and bring it back to what it was in the old days—namely, a piece of genuine, natural springy turf. To do this we would have to cut out the binding clays and chalky soils, come down to the lighter roller, and shorten the time occupied in preparation of the wicket. In Australia Test Match wickets, after a preliminary nursing, have at least 12 days’ continuous preparation prior to play. They then become practically polished concrete blocks. I am satisfied if we got back to the old-time natural turf wicket the present-day defects in the game would disappear. The bowler would again be as formidable as he used to be, scoring would be restricted, and matches would finish in reasonable time. Trusting my views may be worthy of some consideration,

Yours &c.,


In spite of this cri de coeur from a knowledgeable veteran of the game, test wickets remained essentially unaltered, and, compounded by Don Bradman’s astonishing performance four years later in the 1930 ashes series, the problem facing English bowlers ultimately resulted in the adoption of lethal “fast leg theory” tactics, or Bodyline. It is a melancholy fact that sage, non-professional, non-legal advice proffered by Trumbles of successive generations is rarely, if ever, followed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Auntie Mab

Mabel Compson Trumble (1889–1961) was the eldest of the six children of our great-grandparents, J. W. Trumble and Susan Davies. Auntie Mab, as she was known, was a teacher of French and English and for some years joined the staff of what is no doubt correctly presumed to have been an exclusive school for young ladies at Montreux in Switzerland. She was the author of “a French reader for young children” entitled Micheline et Didi, which, together with these charming lithographed illustrations by her brother-in-law, the artist A. E. (“Peter”) Newbury, and slightly less interesting ones drawn by a cousin, Arthur C. Trumble (more like diagrams, really), was published in Melbourne in 1935 by Macmillans, in association with McCarron, Bird & Co. It carries a charming and enigmatic dedication “À la petite Micheline qui m’a enseigné tant.”

Micheline and Didi are fox cubs who live with their parents, Monsieur et Madame Renard, in a comfortable, middle-class, three-storey tree-house with hammock. According to our eccentric cousin Robert, this brief but intelligent publication may be regarded as the first book ever written by a Trumble. But it also attests to the vision and prescience of McCarron, Bird & Co., whose shrewd proprietor obviously recognized that spark of genius that distinguishes Trumble women in every generation, as indeed his grandson Bruce Stewart did, and still does.

Auntie Mab went on to be secretary of the executive committee of the Queen’s Fund, based at the Melbourne Town Hall, in which role she was certainly well established by 1945. The Queen’s Fund was originally set up in 1887 as the chief permanent commemoration in Victoria “of the completion of the Fiftieth year of the Queen’s reign, raised by women, managed chiefly by women, for the good of women, and in honour of the long reign of a good woman, during which the general position of women has been in a hundred ways improved.” Lady Loch, its founder and inaugural president, stated that the Fund existed “solely for the relief of women in distress.”


My dear friend and colleague Lyn Bell Rose has this morning brought to my attention the curious fact that the Indesign computer program “check spelling” tool proffers the following substitutions for “Trumble”:
and, satisfactorily, Tumbrel/Tumbril
She comments, “You can’t make this stuff up,” but adds, “well, O.K., we can’t, but computer programmers obviously can, and do.” Which brings to mind the irritating fact that when I worked at the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, the version of the Microsoft Word program that was then current urged each and every one of my colleagues who happened for whatever reason to type my name into a document to alter it to “Anus Tremble.” My tactfully worded letter of protest to Mr. Bill Gates obviously either went astray, or to Sullivan and Cromwell in case a restraining order should become necessary. However, I am fortunate in life to share the general outlook of mehitabel the cat: “i m toujours gai toujours gai / i know that i am bound / for a journey down the sound / in the midst of a refuse mound / but wotthehell wotthehell...”

The Bunyip


(From the Port Phillip Patriot.)

From the earliest date of our intercourse with the aborigines there has always been a traditional rumour amongst them of a creature hitherto supposed to be fabulous, and many extraordinary stories have from time to time been current as to the conformation and habits of this animal. Speculation and inquiry have been on the rack to find out, first—whether there was any reasonable foundation for these traditional runours; and secondly—supposing the animal to exist, to what genus or species of animal does it belong? At the Hunter River [central coast of New South Wales] the reports of the natives would lead us to classify it with the carnivorous species. In this locality it is called
Yaa-hoo, and is described as having much resemblance in form to the human figure, but with frightful features—the feet like those of a man, but reversed or turned backwards. In the immediate neighbourhood of the river the animal is called Wowee Wowee, and the blacks picture its haunts and habits as purely aquatic. It is a fact well known to residents and others near that river that the aborigines will not readily venture into the deep and dark pools which remain when its bed is partially dried up. On the Murrumbidgee River, especially on the lower parts [in the Riverina district of south-central and southwestern New South Wales], rumours of the existence of this animal are more than usually rife, and there the aborigines far and wide describe the animal as inhabiting the waters. From their account it has a head and neck like an emu, with a long and flowing mane—feeding on crayfish (with which the river abounds) [yabbies] and occasionally on a stray blackfellow; that it inhabits the darkest and deepest parts of the river, and in some of the lakes and lagoons that longest retain water. This account appears to be “nearer the mark” than any we have met, and the facts we are about to detail will settle the question as to whether such a creature ever existed or not. An animal never yet described by any naturalist “lives, moves, and has its being” [Acts 17: 28, cfr. Aquinas, ST, Q. 18, a.4, thence all the way down to Hegel, Heidegger, and thence to Carlyle, Sartor Resartus] at the present day, and in the land or water of the Terra Australia incognita. At the station of Mr. Hobler on Lake Paika (situated some twenty-five miles below the junction of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee [roughly half way between Hay and Balranald, N.S.W.] it has been observed that the natives have ever evinced a strong disinclination to bathe in the lake, alleging that the Kine Pratie would attack and devour them, and some short time since two of Mr. Hobler’s servants solemnly stated that, on looking one morning across the lake, they espied on the other side of it, two animals, which they at first supposed to be two horses, but being puzzled about the movements of the creatures, they rode round to satisfy themselves on the subject, but on arriving at the spot they could discover no tracks or trace of any animal whatever. If what they saw, or fancied they saw, were horses, it is probable that they would have left some traces behind them, but as no traces were found, the only conclusion to be arrived at is, either that the creatures they saw were aquatic animals and seen on the water, or that the whole was an optical delusion. Now we may easily suppose that one man’s sight and senses may be imposed on, or perverted, but that the sight and senses of two men could be simultaneously and similarly deceived in open day light, is a matter of no easy belief. Mr. Hobler writes thus:—“Two Kine Praties have been seen at the same time at Paika, and that there is such a creature we are now SURE, as the skull of one, evidently of recent date, and therefore in perfect preservation, has been seen by a Mr. Phelps, a settler in the neighbourhood, and Mr. Stack, brother to the Rev. Mr. Stack, at Maitland [northeast of Newcastle, N.S.W.—it was picked up near Waldare, and is in possession of Mr. Fletcher. Another was picked up by one of the Adelaide travelers, who very sagaciously threw it away [typical], but thinks he can find it again.” Mr. Hobler offered to purchase the skull of Mr. Fletcher, who, well knowing the prize he had got, would not so much as listen to his offer. The skull here alluded to is either in the possession of Mr. Fletcher, son of Dr. Fletcher, or of Mr. Gilbert, Secretary of the Mechanics’ Institute. It is described as being the skull of an animal of the carnivorous order, as is ascertained from the teeth, with a very large cavity for the brain, and a long, protruding bill or jaw, which is broken off before the molares; the lower part is altogether wanting, and so is the top of the skull. Sufficient is however left to show that it belongs to an order of animals not yet described as either of anti or post-diluvian existence. Mr. Hobler also writes, that he has been informed one of these creatures was lately seen at Lake Tarla, situated about eight miles from Lake Paika, making a great disturbance in the water; and that another is known to be in a smaller lake which is fast drying up, somewhere in the same neighbourhood, and that a strict watch is being kept up, with the hope of taking the creature as the element so necessary to its existence recedes. The Weragerie blacks call the creature the Kine Pratie, but the Mutmuts, Watti-wattis, and other tribes, have each their own names for it.

The Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday, February 6, 1847, p. 4

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mongie II

Together, in 1938, our dear cousin slash aunt Mollie Bruce-Pearson (Mongie) and Mum (aged eleven) collaborated on a second work of romantic fiction, which was intended for use on commercial radio. All of the products that they threaded into the plot were of course real, as were certain of the characters such as rasping Dr. Newton, who treated Mongie for the tuberculosis from which she took several hard and painful years to recover. In a way these mad stories—note, for example, Harold’s bizarre dietbelie the various hardships that Mongie and indeed both the Pearson and Borthwick families endured during the Great Depression. At best, they were difficult years, but one can also see that Mum and her siblings gave Mongie great comfort, if not joy. Much earlier, Mongie contrived to deliver to the fairy circle that Mum discovered by the railway line at Raeshaw a series of enchanting letters from the fairies that were painstakingly written out on gum leaves. At around the time when Mongie had to go away to hospital, the fairies announced to Mum that they, too, would be going away for a while, but it took some years before she put two and two together. At eighty-two, Mum can still provide her children, grandchildren, and new great-granddaughter with occasional glimpses of that awestruck little girl, as well as the collaborative authoress of ridiculous radio dramas.

Cynthia and Harold


Love will find a way

By M. B. Pearson

A Novel of High Life

For use in Commercial Radio Stations

Chapter I

Cynthia leaped lightly out of bed and skipped to the window.

“Oh! Mama,” she shrilled, “the world is white with snow.”

She made a delightful picture of young womanhood as she stood there in her genuine Myrene Flannelette nightdress (only 1/11¾ per yard, and guaranteed non-inflammable).

“Yes, dear,” replied her mother, Lady Snodgrass, from the adjoining room. “Just right for your ski-ing expedition, or was it hunting?”

Cynthia, as you may have guessed, was one of those delightful out-door girls who have made Great Britain and the Dominions what they are today. Her days were taken up with sport. Huntin’, shootin’, fishin’, ski-in’, hikin’, and in the evenings dancin’ or playin’ billiards.

Lady Snodgrass, who had entered the room gazed at her fondly. It was not many weeks now since Cynthia had been lackadaisical and wan, and her mother had been at a loss to account for it. At last she had ’phoned Dr. Newton and told him her troubles. He had promptly diagnosed the case.

“Night starvation, Lady Snodgrass,” he rasped. “Put her onto Ovaltine, and you will soon see a change.”

So onto Ovaltine—obtainable at all chemists and grocers—she had gone, and in no time she was radiant with health.

Chapter II

Many men had sought Cynthia’s hand in marriage, but none had touched her heart till the day met Harold Higginbotham out huntin’. From that moment Cynthia had known that her heart was no longer her own, that it belonged to another.

Tall, dark, and handsome, Harold was every inch a man-of-the-world. But strange to say, in spite of his obvious admiration for her, no words of love had ever passed Harold’s lips. Could it be that they were sealed?

However, the friendship grew apace, and the handsome pair were constantly to be seen together, either huntin’, fishin’, shootin’, or ski-in’.

Chapter III

It was riding home from a day with the hounds that affairs took a more personal turn. Cynthia, turning to Harold, said softly, “Mr. Higginbotham, forgive my boldness, but you have such lovely white teeth. How do you account for them?”

“Easily, Miss Snodgrass,” laughed Harold. “You see, I always use Ipana Tooth Paste, and if you want clean, healthy gums, and white, sparkling teeth use Ipana—I-P-A-N-A, available at all chemists. Baby tube 1/2, medium tube 1/6, family tube 6/6.”

“Thank you,” whispered Cynthia. “And what is more,” she added boldly, “I shall tell all my friends.”

It was another day, returning from fishin’ that the friendship seemed to take a still more romantic turn. As Harold helped her over a stile, Cynthia turned to him and murmured timidly, “Mr. Higginbotham, do not think me very brazen, but I would so love to know to what you attribute your magnificent physique and glowing health?”

Harold gazed at his fair companion tenderly before he replied with a throb in his voice, “You shall know, Miss Snodgrass—Cynthia—I attribute my entire well-being to two facts. Firstly my diet. I partake almost entirely of Sanitarium Health Foods—peanut butter—marmite—whole-wheat bread, and raw onions. These are all obtainable at the Sanitarian Health Foods Depot, 146 Little Collins Street, City. Then if I should feel at all out of sorts on awakening I invariably take one of Carter’s invaluable little liver pills, in boxes of 6, 12, 24, and the family size containing 2,000. And secondly, Cynthia,” his manly voice dropped an octave, “I always wear Aertex next the skin.”

“I see,” said Cynthia, flushing prettily.

“Yes,” continued Harold, “Aertex enables the pores to breathe freely, and the skin to act as it should.”

Cynthia gazed at him, her heart in her eyes.

“Oh Harold,” she trebled, “how wonderful you are.”

And so, although no word was spoken, their love seemed to grow and blossom. Till one day as they were returning from a hikin’ expedition, Cynthia turned to Harold as he carried her across a rushing torrent.

“Harold,” she twittered in her innocent way. “You always look such a man-about-town. May I dare to ask you where you dress?

“Certainly, Cynthia,” he replied. “Usually in my bed-room, but sometimes I take my clothing to the bathroom…”

“Oh! Harold,” gushed Cynthia, flushing rosily. “That is not what I meant. I was merely inquiring where you obtained your suits for every occasion?” He gazed at her in consternation.

“How foolish of me,” he throbbed. “I mistook your meaning. I am delighted that you approve my dressing, and let me tell you that you must thank Wardrop my tailor for it. You would be amazed, Cynthia, at the value for money at Wardrop’s. Fifteen guinea suits elsewhere are only 84/– at Wardrop’s, and they have a delightful wool and cotton mixture sports coat with action back for only 12/11. Then their flannel and worsted pinstripe double-breasted office suiting is the last word in toney men’s wear. No-one who shops at Wardrop’s can look anything but manly. And do not forget,” added Harold, “that with every Wardrop suit there is an extra pair of trousers free.”

“Thank you, Harold,” whispered Cynthia softly. “I shall not forget.”

Chapter IV

It was settled that Lady Snodgrass should give a dinner party to celebrate the conclusion of the huntin’ season. At last the great night arrived, and Mistletoe Manor was agleam with lights and alive with guests, and aglow with gaiety. Harold’s chief rival, Arthur Upcheek, was there looking very sinister, with his sleek black hair and a heavily waxed moustache. Harold himself was a figure of superb manhood in a Wardrop tail coat, while Cynthia was a delightful vision in pale violet tonings, kept glowingly warm by her Wolsley underwear with its soft texture, clinging and yet roomy.

Lady Snodgrass drew Harold to her side on the sofa for a chat, while they waited for Grimes the Butler to announce dinner.

“What charming furnishings you have, Lady Snodgrass,” he said warmly.

“Yes,” she replied, “and all from Maple’s on the lay-by.”

“What is that, Lady Snodgrass?” said Harold with interest.

“Oh, you have not heard of Maple’s lay-by? £2 down, and the balance over fifty years, and your money back if no satisfaction? That wicker whatnot in the corner is already paid for, as are those lamps you see; and the couch or divan we are sharing has a collapsible back, and can be used as a bed when there are extra in the home.” Lady Snodgrass leaned towards Harold.

“Have you never thought of setting up house?” she murmured meaningly. His tanned face was flushed with red.

“You have given me food for thought,” he said.

“Dinner Milady!” boomed Grimes, and the sparkling conversation was transferred to the dining room.

Dinner was over, and the company had reassembled in the drawing-room when it happened. Cynthia suddenly turned to Harold who was at her side.

“Oh Harold, my head, it throbs so, what can it be?” He was not at a loss for long.

“I know just what you need, dear,” he breathed, and, turning to the guests, he thundered, “Has anyone present a box or bottle of Bex genuine A.P.C. for headaches and other disorders?” A glass of water was soon to hand, and Cynthia, dimpling at her lovers, swallowed down the highly recommended sedatives. Then—to the horror of all present—there was a heavy crash as she toppled to the ground…

The next hour passed in a flash as pandemonium broke loose. Dr. Newton was quickly on the spot with a nurse, and he shook his head as he felt Cynthia’s pulse.

“208 to the minute by my Gaunt’s wristwatch, only 37/6 in gunmetal, second hand 2/6 extra,” he said gravely. His diagnosis was an appalling one: “Poison,” he gritted. “Fortunately, I have with me my Dunlop rubber stomach pump, obtainable at all garages within a twelve mile radius of the G.P.O., except at the weekend. So all may yet be well.” He turned sternly to the butler, who was hovering in the rear. “Grimes,” he said, “see that no-one leaves the house.”

Chapter V

An hour later, thanks to her medico’s prompt action with the stomach pump, Cynthia was herself once more. Dr. Newton, assembling everyone in the hall, thundered, “Who is responsible for this folly?”

All eyes turned towards Harold, who drew himself to his full height of 6 foot 4½ in his Buck’s half-hose, 6 foot 5½ in his Doctor Arnold’s health-shoes.

“I am innocent,” he said gravely. Then, turning on his Dunlop rubber heel, he strode to where Arthur Upcheek was standing with his waxed moustache curled in a sneer, and said sternly: “Upcheek, I order you to produce that bottle of Bex A.P.C.”

“And what if I refuse,” rasped Arthur.

“Then I shall take it!” gritted Harold. And grasping his rival by the scruff of the neck he shook him until the bottle crashed to the ground. Darting forward, Dr. Newton picked up the bottle, opened it, and sniffed at the contents.

“Tainted Tablets!” he muttered, shuddering. With a dramatic gesture Arthur drew from his hip-pocket his Hartley’s Our Boy’s Scout Knife, and pulling out the corkscrew, made as though to plunge it in his breast. But his arms were grasped from behind by the ever-ready Grimes, and he was borne struggling from the hall. Cynthia fell into Harold’s open arms.

“My darling,” he breathed, “will you marry me?”

“Yes, Harold,” she murmured, almost swooning.

“Then meet me tomorrow night at 6.30 for dinner at the Prince of Wales, St. Kilda, where a splendid four-course meal is obtainable for only 2/6, including soup, fish, joint, and two veg., with sweet or fruit to follow.”

“Oh Harold,” gushed Cynthia, “I shall be there.”

And so it came about, thanks to Maple’s lay-by, that Harold and Cynthia were wed, and lived happily ever after in the rich but “homey” atmosphere of their charming villa. And as they sat amid their tasteful furnishings in the evenings, Harold would often turn to Cynthia and say fondly, “Remember, dear, there’s a Maple’s Store right near your door.”



Mongie, pronounced Mungie, and the G is soft, not hard, was a genius with children.

Towards the end of the summer of 1937–38, whilst still recuperating from tuberculosis, Mongie kept Mum busy at Metung—she was not yet twelve years old—by creating “a detective drama,” for radio, entitled Doris and Archie, or, The Mystery of the Headless Woman. The manuscript, which Mongie wrote into an Aero exercise book, was accompanied by illustrations carefully clipped from old copies of the Illustrated London News, Harpers and Queen, etc.

According to the title page, Doris and Archie was “written and unpublished in 1938 by Helen Borthwick (Jun.), aged 9 [sic] (the dangerous age), & Mongie Bruce-Pearson (very jun.).”

In due course, Mongie lent the manuscript to her friend F. H. Legg who actually broadcast it on commercial radio. As she put it: “Lent to Ferocious Hotspot Legg. Why? Because I think he is too light-headed, and badly in need of a little cheap reading. Kindly do not drop butter from the toast or egg from the mouth on the pages.”

The text is enchanting, but achieves its most comic effects through the absurdity and placement of the images. Their absence here is merely a temporary problem, and no worse, surely, than it was for Legg’s Geelong listeners, who must have been delighted, stupified, or possibly both.

Soon after this, Mongie spent some months living in the same nursing home cum boarding house and sanatorium in Croydon where her own Aunt Minnie, the novelist Mary Grant Bruce, was also temporarily residing. Granny took Mum to visit them for a few days during the school holidays some time in the middle of 1939, and Mary Grant Bruce took that welcome opportunity to test on Mum (who was by then twelve or thirteen) the unfinished manuscript of her new novel Karalta. Clearly, however, Mum’s greater childhood enjoyment was in composition and art direction, not editing, nor providing feedback to slightly high-maintenance professionals, no matter how eminent.

Together, Mum and Mongie proceeded to compose a more ambitious work, certainly longer, entitled Cynthia and Harold, or Love Will Find A Way, A Novel of High Life, for use in commercial radio stations.” Stay tuned, but for the time being Doris and Archie will have to do:



The mystery of the headless woman

The Honourable Doris Dillwater was a fine, upstanding type of English girlhood. One of those who look “just right” in whatever they wear, Doris was frequently to be seen yachting at Metung, or on the Trotting Track at Richmond. Very reckless at the wheel of her sports car, she was frequently seen on the race track at Cowes, or golfing at West Geelong.

Her father, Lord Wobblegoose (Honest John to his cronies) had started life as a humble golf professional. Tiring of this, he joined the army and became a well-known frequenter of all the London night clubs, where he was always surrounded with the ladies. He broke all hearts in his mess kit.

His wife, Lady Sybil Wobblegoose, was a well-known society beauty, famed alike for her hourglass waist and her swan neck. In fact, so young and girlish was she that she and Doris were frequently mistaken for sisters.

On coming into the title Lord Wobblegoose (or Honest John) had inherited a magnificent country seat, a Baronial Hall, which he lined with trophies of the chase, a collection for which he rightly became very famous.

Everyone was delighted when the Hon. Doris married that whimsical and well-known Oxford Rugger back, and Cambridge Soccer forward, Archie O’Cedar from Ireland. The happy couple took ship for a happy honeymoon in India.

Returning to England, Archie and Doris settled down in a delightful old-world cottage in the country. Here Doris and her mother, who was a frequent visitor, spent many happy evenings over the wireless, which was always turned full on, as Lady Sybil was a little hard of hearing.

Imagine the delight of Doris and Archie when a little toddler arrived, whom they called Hilderbrand [sic], after a wealthy great-uncle in India. What a happy home it was, no-one dreaming that stark tragedy lay ahead.

Waking one morning at the usual hour, Archie was horrified to discover that the Hon. Doris was not beside him. Quickly flying to the telephone he summoned the well-known Scotland Yard man, Detective-Inspector Jones. Swiftly on the spot, the brilliant sleuth was quick to perceive that the bed had not been disturbed, the cot was empty, and—most momentous discovery of all—there were footprints on the table. Jones was completely baffled when he found that the chair had not been sat in. Last—and worst—discovery of all, was that of a headless body under the bed, clad with garments identical with those worn by the Hon. Doris.

On being acquainted with the ghastly tidings, Lady Sybil, who was a visitor in the cottage at the time, sprang to her feet in shocked surprise.

Lord Wobblegoose was quite unhinged by the news; ran away from home, joined the navy, and grew a beard.

On being questioned about her daughter’s disappearance, Lady Sybil recalled that she had last seen the Hon. Doris preparing for bed the night previous. Detective-Inspector Jones, cross-examining Lady Sybil on the Hon. Doris’s personal habits, extracted the information that she (Doris) had suffered from nasal trouble as a young girl. Never baffled for long, Jones soon discovered traces of snow in Hilderbrand’s pram.

Taking Archie with him, he hurried to Switzerland, where together they scaled the twin peaks of the Matterhorn and Fatterhorn, but without result.

Refusing to be discouraged, they hurried back to London where the search became feverish. The Hon. Doris’s photograph appeared in every paper.

At last Jones determined to enlist the help of the well-known lady-detective—Ethel Hollowhead—known in the Force as “the Wonder-Kid of Scotland Yard.”

Disguising herself as a simple village maiden, Ethel visited every night-club in London, but in vain. Then taking on the clever disguise of a Lady of Leisure, Ethel spent a weekend in every Stately Home of England, but no result.

Completely outwitted, and in despair at her first failure, Ethel retired from the Force, and took up landscape-gardening.

Unbaffling himself once more, Jones hurried back to the cottage where he made the breathtaking discovery of a towel in Doris’s bathroom, covered with Indian embroidery.

Hurriedly disguising himself, he flew off to India by Air Mail.

Here to his unspeakable delight he discovered Doris, starved, and worn, and in cotton rags, but unharmed amidst India’s teeming millions.

Plied with goodies, Doris soon smiled again, as she told Jones her Tale of Horror.

It appeared that she had been in bed on the night of the 10th when the room was entered by a sinister man (or brute), who had drugged her and her child. Forcing her to make her bed as though it had been unoccupied, he had then placed a headless body under it. Then dragging her child after him, he had placed cotton wool in the pram. (Afterwards mistaken by Jones for snow, a lapse for which he never forgave himself.) Fortunately on their arrival in India, her sinister captor hurried off on a fishing trip, and it was during his absence that Jones found her.

Hurrying home, they were met by a delirious Archie, who gave a huge fancy dress party in Doris’s honour.

Lord Wobblegoose was court-martialed from the navy for swearing. He returned home, and took up golf once more.

Uncle Hilderbrand returned from India quite crippled with Blackwater fever and Boils, shortly died, and left all his money to Doris and her little ones: Cyril, Letitia, Leila, Freda, Maida, Josa, and Wilhelmina (Mina for short), Walter, Gladys, Cynthia, Gertrude (never very strong), Hilderbrand (stunted from his sinister adventure), and Rose.

While, as for the Hon. Doris and Archie O’Cedar, they just danced their way through life.

The End.


Last night I heard then saw something really shocking.

At about six o’clock a young man walked into the not particularly crowded bar where I was sitting and reading the paper, caught or missed the top step, and came crashing down on the terracotta-tiled floor, head first, not just out cold but severely injured.

I heard it first because I was facing the other way: a massive thud with grace notes of jelly, and muffled cracking. It sounded like the collapse onto concrete of an enormous crate of oranges suspended in an industrial-scale sack of custard. There followed a split second of chilling silence. You knew. You just knew.

I swung around and saw him lying there motionless. All hell broke loose.

A distressed women lunged forward and shrieked: “Oh my God. Call 911!” Most of the male customers were less immediately responsive, I noticed.

“Get towels” and, interestingly, “Quick: give-me-the-thing-of-rubber-gloves.”

I must say the staff were amazing, Max in particular. In less than ten seconds after impact, maybe five (because in a crisis seconds are painfully slow), the ambulance was on its way.

I tried not to look from then on, because so many other people, especially young people, were staring at the poor bloke. I found myself staring at them staring. Something about that annoyed me. Stop staring.

Yet of course I stole two or three quick glances over my shoulder, couldn’t help it. By then his right leg was twitching horribly. He looked youngish, reasonably compact, and in every other respect apparently healthy. He had a shaved head, and his jeans were freshly laundered.

It felt as if the ambulance and firemen took ages to get him onto a stretcher and out of there, but they actually did it quite quickly, and with supreme skill. When they wheeled him out he was vaguely conscious, twitching slightly less, but bleeding copiously.

Never have I been made so painfully aware of the hiss of oxygen coming from a cylinder.

I have trotted down those same steps a thousand times over the last few years. It could so easily have been me. But it wasn’t, and presumably that is one good reason why it wasn’t.

Hello, welcome to your life. What does this mean for his? He wasn’t drunk. He just missed the top step. Fragile à go-go. I suppose he was lucky he didn’t break his neck on the corner of the nearest heavy wooden table, or get killed in a car accident, or vaporized in a plane crash.

Our vectors seem so fixed and certain, but they’re not. You can make choices and to some extent those choices may help to keep you safe and sound, but it’s not always like that. Into any given moment the supernatural index finger of happenstance will suddenly point and say, “This is here; I am now, and you are nothing but flotsam, drifting in a sea of improbability and outrageous circumstance. You are the random element, not me. Drink?”

And then they washed the floor with disinfectant, and everybody went back to what they were doing before.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mary Grant Bruce

The Australian novelist Mary Grant Bruce (1878–1958) was the second daughter and fourth child of Eyre Lewis Bruce and Mary (Minnie) Atkinson Whittakers, the daughter in turn of William and Louisa Whittakers, Welsh pioneers of the Monaro district of New South Wales. Mr. Bruce was a surveyer who migrated to Victoria from Cork in Ireland in 1854; settled near Sale in East Gippsland ten years later, and surveyed Bruce Road, his only monument, which still skirts the Colquhuon State Forest, commencing at a point on the Princes’ Highway that is roughly half way between Swan Reach and Kalimna West, and leads most of the way north to the neighborhood of Tambo Upper. I am afraid that one day someone will feel they have to pave it.

Now the Bruce, Gooch, and Pearson families of East Gippsland were closely bound by marriage. Two of my great-grandmother Sophie Pearson’s younger Gooch siblings each married a different one of Mary Grant Bruce’s: Frank Gooch married Emily Bruce, while Sophie and Frank’s adored youngest sister Mollie married Maxwell Bruce (Max). After Mollie died in childbirth, leaving Max with a baby daughter, Sophie and William Pearson took the baby into their own family, and raised her with their own son and daughters (including Granny). The baby’s name was also Mollie. Eventually she took the additional surname of Pearson (whether she was ever formally adopted I do not know), and became known affectionately to subsequent generations of Pearsons, Borthwicks, and Trumbles as Mungie.

Now, much earlier, in the 1880s, Sophie Pearson’s sister Kate married William Pearson’s brother Jack, and by this neat and not particularly unusual Victorian stratagem the children of all three families were provided with many cousins; a deep attachment to each other, and a powerful attachment to the region of East Gippsland where they all grew up

Beyond these immediate family connections, like the Pearsons, the Bruces were lifelong friends and neighbors of the Borthwick family of Sale and nearby Bald Hills. In 1914, Mary Grant Bruce married her distant Anglo-Irish cousin, Major George Evans Bruce, to whom in London she introduced the whole Pearson family, including her niece Mungie, who was by then in boarding school.

Throughout the extended periods they spent living abroad, George and Mary Grant Bruce corresponded with great-grandmother Ada Borthwick and, after she died, with Aunt Jean and Aunt Kath. During the bleak period of crisis that followed the death in a shooting accident in Northern Ireland of the Bruces’ younger son Patrick, Mary’s affectionate correspondence with Mrs. Borthwick turned more and more toward breathing exercises, thought-power, table-rapping, and spiritualism.

In any case, it is hardly surprising that the Linton characters in Mary Grant Bruce’s famous series of Billabong novels often resemble various Bruces, Gooches, Pearsons, and Borthwicks, and I have a strong feeling that their fictional property, Billabong, is a fusion of Bonegilla (above), Kilmany Park, and Bald Hills, with plenty of embellishments. Here, for example, is the opening of From Billabong to London, the publication of which coincided with the Pearsons’ extended visit to England, beginning in late 1912:

If you came to the homestead of Billabong by the front entrance, you approached a great double gate of wrought iron, which opened stiffly, with protesting creaks, and creaked almost as much at being closed. Then you found yourself in a long, winding avenue, lined with tall pine-trees, beyond which you could catch glimpses, between the trunks of a kind of wilderness-garden, where climbing roses and flowering shrubs and gum-trees and bush plants, and a host of pleasant, friendly, common flowers grew all together in a very delightful fashion. Seeing, however, that you were a visitor by the front entrance, you could not answer the beckonings of the wilderness-garden, but must follow the windings of the avenue, on and on, until the wild growth on either side gave place to spreading lawns and trim flower-beds, the pine-trees ended, and you came round a kind of corner formed by an immense bush of scarlet bougainvillea, and so found the house smiling a welcome.
Very rarely were any doors or windows shut at Billabong. The kindly Australian climate makes the sunlit winter air a delight; and if in summer it is sometimes necessary to shut out heat, and possibly intrusive snakes, as soon as the sun goes down everything is flung wide open to admit the cool evening breeze that comes blowing across the paddocks. Billabong always looked as if it were open to welcome the newcomer.

It was a red house of two storeys, looking lower than it was because of its width and the great trees that grew all round it, as well as because of its broad balconies and verandas. From either side the garden stretched away until hedges of roses blocked the entrance to orchard and vegetable patches. The house stood on a gentle rise, and in front the trees had been thinned so that across the smooth lawn you looked over stretching paddocks, dotted with gum-trees, and broken by the silver gleam of a reed-fringed lagoon. There was no other house visible—only the wide, peaceful paddocks. The nearest road was two miles away, and it was seventeen miles to the nearest town. Perhaps, seen from the front, Billabong might have seemed a little lonely.